Pierre Lemaitre: Au revoir là-haut [Goodbye, Up There]


The latest addition to my website is Pierre Lemaitre‘s Au revoir là-haut (The Great Swindle), the winner of the 2013 Goncourt Prize. The story starts in the last week of World War I, when all parties are awaiting the armistice. However, Lieutenant d’Aulnay-Pradelle wants his last chance at glory and promotion. He sends two men out on patrol and then kills them, pretending that it was the Germans that did it. His men are now eager to attack. During the attack Albert Maillard is buried under soil but is rescued by the badly injured Édouard Périgord. Maillard looks after Périgord, helping him change his identity, as he does not want to see his family again, and caring for him. Meanwhile Pradelle has married Périgord’s sister and used his father-in-law’s connections to make money out of the war, in particular by being responsible for burying the French war dead in large cemeteries but cutting corners and cheating on the contracts. Meanwhile, things are not going well in postwar France for Albert and Édouard, till Édouard hatches a clever plan. It is an excellent story, well told, even if not great literature. It has not yet been translated into English but Maclehose Press, who have already published one of Lemaitre’s books in English and will be publishing two more next year, plan to bring out a translation in 2015. They tell me that they have not yet decided on an English title. I hope they can improve on my literal translation from the French.